Polished production, but something amiss in Sondheim concert

Lea Salonga casts a spell on the audience with 'Send in the Clowns.' Photos by Elton Lugay

By Cristina DC Pastor & Elton Lugay

Powerhouse casting couldn’t begin to describe the much-touted one-night-only production of “PhilDev Celebrates Broadway: Suites by Sondheim” at the Lincoln Center. The show was led by Tony Award-winner Lea Salonga, including a 60-plus ensemble of theater artists who have performed or are currently appearing on Broadway, such as TV Carpio of “Spider-Man” and Adam Jacobs of “Lion King.”

Directed by Victor Lirio with musical direction and original orchestrations by Tom Myron, the two-hour program included songs from Sondheim’s classics such as “Company,” “West Side Story,” “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Lea Salonga was clear as day the show’s stellar attraction. Her interpretation of “Send in the Clowns” was flawless in terms of musicality and emotional texture.

The others held their own and came off just as splendidly. Special mention goes to Jose Llana (“Company,” “Multitudes of Amys”), Ali Ewoldt (“Somewhere”) and Deedee Magno Hall (“Losing my Mind”). Some performers sang unintelligibly, others could not emotively relate to their music.

It was a near-polished production, but something about the show sent some heading to the coat check immediately after Lea’s first number.

A lack of variety? No dance numbers to pump up the show? No storyline to provide context about the songs? We couldn’t explain it and neither could the people we spoke to. It’s just one song after another interpreted in standard Broadway style. Until one avid theatergoer thought aloud: “No peaks and valleys?”

Which is not to say Suites by Sondheim was a disappointment. Far from it. It was a coup in terms of bringing together a powerhouse collective of Filipinos in theater and their vast achievements. Seeing them all on one stage and admiring their Broadway-honed gravitas brought a swell of pride to Filipinos in the audience. At least that’s how we felt coming from a culture where singing comes close to potty training when raising Filipino children.

Composer-lyricist Robert Lopez, who received PhilDev’s Award of Excellence for his Tony Award-winning “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon,” acknowledged how he was doubly honored to be among fellow Filipinos.

“I don’t go around much in the community, with two children, but tonight feels special,” he told The FilAm. “It certainly feels like there’s really too many of us on Broadway.”

Filipinos are said to be the biggest Asian group in New York’s theater circuit.

As a fundraiser for PhilDev (formerly Ayala Foundation USA), Suites by Sondheim was a packed event, with the community and the city’s notables in attendance. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, who joined the Honorary Chair Committee of the benefit, commended the contributions of Filipino Americans to the arts and culture of New York City.

“Senators Schumer and Gillibrand have sponsored a resolution unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate naming October as Filipino American Heritage Month,” she said.

Benefit event chair Loida Nicolas Lewis said “it is fitting” that both the senators of New York State are honorary chairs for this Filipino American “cultural event of the decade,” referring to Maloney and Schumer.

Expressing the board’s thanks, gala chair Ronna Reyes Sieh said: “Your presence and support this evening helps PhilDev in its philanthropic work focused on building an ecosystem of science and technology-based entrepreneurship and innovation for social and economic developments in the Philippines.”

Or as Sondheim would play it, “God, that’s good!”

PhilDev board members (from left) Loida Nicolas Lewis, Dado Banatao and Ronna Reyes Sieh

Senator Loren Legarda is introduced to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, with Consul General Mario de Leon looking on

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